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From Belonging to Becoming: What if we put belonging first like Jesus did?

By: Mike Clarensau

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Managing Your Ministry

Wed, 14 Apr 2010 - 3:59 PM CST

Church Management—Developing Good Bottom-Line Business Sense


Often new pastors are quickly awakened as they leave Bible school or seminary and begin pastoring their first church. They spend much of their time performing business functions. While most Bible schools do a wonderful job of teaching theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, and basic Bible knowledge, few schools adequately prepare a pastor to deal with finances, accounting statements, legal matters, building programs, and basic personnel supervision. In my experience dealing with churches, church denominations, and corporations, I have found church management is more of an art than a science. Although basic management can be taught in formal classes, true church business management is often learned through experience and advice.

I have learned five basic church administration principles that help a pastor develop a business sense.


How many times have you arrived at the end of a busy day and realized you really didn’t get anything accomplished? In our zeal to accomplish things, we often concentrate on the urgent and not the important. Church administration, as well as all aspects of ministry, calls for concentrating on what is important.

A principle often taught in management classes is the Pareto Principle or the 20/80 principle. It means that as a pastor you need to spend 80 percent of your time on the 20 percent that really matters. John Maxwell, in his book Developing the Leader Within You, uses the following example to illustrate the Pareto Principle:

Time—20 percent of our time produces 80 percent of the results.

Counseling—20 percent of the people take up 80 percent of our time.

Reading—20 percent of a book contains 80 percent of the content.

Donations—20 percent of the people will give 80 percent of the money.

Speech—20 percent of our presentation produces 80 percent of the impact.

Picnic—20 percent of the people will eat 80 percent of the food.

In a church administration role, I have spent time making decisions about colors of paper, tablecloths, phone numbers, and broken copiers when I should have been empowering others to make those decisions. Resist the idea that it is easier to make a decision and do the job yourself. Instead, take time to train and provide information to others to make the management of the church self-governing.

Setting priorities in management and ministry and equipping others will assist in maintaining proper perspective.

Bottom Line: When speaking of perspective ask yourself: "Will it really matter 1 month from now, 1 year from now, 100 years from now?"


The wisest administrator who ever lived said, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" (Proverbs 22:1). Always remember the timeliness and method in which you pay your bills is a reflection of you, your ministry, and the church. One pastor stated that when he first became pastor of a well-established church, he was surprised that the church owed a local supplier a sum of money. However, the church had more than enough money in its bank account to pay the creditor and still cover operating expenses. When he asked why the account hadn’t been paid, he was told: "When the supplier owners need their money, they will ask again."

Just as with our personal bills, church bills must be paid on time. A good administrator not only pays bills on time but saves for a rainy day. The biblical perspective of being a wise steward extends beyond how we spend money to how we save money. The wise pastor maintains adequate reserves for church emergencies but also realizes the church is not the place to store up large reserves. Investing in ministry opportunities, missions projects, giving to other churches, and supporting national and district ministries should be foremost as the Lord blesses the finances of the local church.

Maintaining a good business reputation also means wise borrowing of money. Although steps of faith are often called for in reaching the vision of ministry, mortgages and indebtedness can severely hinder the daily business operations of the church as well as negatively affect attitudes of community members and church attendees. Larry Burkett, in his book Business by the Book, lists some scriptural principles for borrowing:

1. Borrowing should be only occasional—Luke 12:58,59.

2. Avoid signing surety on a loan—Proverbs 6:1–3.

3. Stay out of long-term debt—Proverbs 22:7.

Bottom Line: A good reputation is earned by a pastor, ministry, and church. Once obtained, it should be protected daily. A church’s strong business reputation says: "Our organization spends wisely, saves wisely, pays its bills on time, and invests in ministry."


How often have I thought: my job would be easy if only I didn’t have to work with people. The reality of ministry and church administration is that our business is people. People are an organization’s most valuable resource. Yet, in many Christian organizations their value is frequently overlooked. As administrators, it is our duty to equip people with the right tools to accomplish their tasks without constantly telling them what to do—not do their jobs for them.

Management guru Stephen Covey uses the analogy of clearing a jungle. The workers are busy cutting, clearing, and removing trees while the managers are continually sharpening the axes for the workers to do their jobs. Enhanced working relationships should reflect our mentoring and developing of those around us in the community and with the church staff (whether paid or volunteer).

Some basic principles of people management are listed in the book Management: A Biblical Approach by Myron Rush. He urges the ministry executive to remember these basic points:

• People are creative.

• People need to be needed.

• People need to be trusted.

• People need to be given decision-making power with parameters.

• People need to be recognized.

Bottom Line: A good manager spends time with people by mentoring, teaching, and developing them.


Someone once said, "It’s not how hard you work; it’s how smart you work." Being an effective administrator requires organization and constant planning. We often react to situations instead of being proactive toward situations—i.e., planning, anticipating, and putting steps in place to avoid disaster.

I recently heard a pastor who accepted the pastorate of a small congregation with a large church building and a large building debt tell about his first meeting with the board of the bank carrying the church loan. The board members wanted to know his immediate plans for reducing the indebtedness of the million-dollar building.

A good administrator:

• Plans for each day but has a series of short- and long-term plans.

• Continually forms, revises, and reviews goals and objectives.

• Uses agendas, to-do lists, and daily calendars as tools for ministry management.

• Does not minimize the effect of preparing for a meeting.

Early in my career as a management consultant and after leading a chaotic meeting, I received this advice from my supervisor: "Always think, What is the worst thing that can happen in this meeting? Then prepare for it!" Some pastors may wish they would have had this advice before their annual business meetings.

Being prepared for administrative meetings, doing your homework, developing objectives for meetings, and operating on monthly and yearly goals gives both the pastor and the church a perception of efficiency. Researcher George Barna, in his book The Frog in the Kettle, reminds us that church members’ expectations are shifting. What used to be trust among church leadership has now shifted to proven integrity. Church members demand greater accountability and have higher expectations of the business operations of the local church. After spending all week in a downsized business environment where spending is closely watched and quality is a daily buzzword, church members do not want to be part of an unorganized church business meeting.

Bottom Line: Planning and organizing are a must in the ministry environment. The Boy Scout motto works equally well for pastors: "Be prepared."


In today’s environment, change is a constant force that continually challenges the church administrator/pastor—changes in technology, business processes, laws, individuals, and ministry opportunities. A primary principle for church leaders to remember is that although we have an unchanging message, we live in a changing world.

In the church world, we live with the adage: "We’ve always done it that way." With this mind-set it is imperative that the pastor, as a good leader, help people cope with change, help move church leaders toward accepting change, and apply changing technologies and processes to church business operations.

A pastor friend recently told me of his first board meeting at his present church. It was 15 years ago, and the congregation was about 250 people. He said the board spent 45 minutes discussing whether to buy a $250 calculator. Fifteen years later the church has grown to 2,500 attendees, and many of the original board members remain. However, now the board members discuss strategic goals, long-range planning, important expense items, and how to effectively reach their city. In addition to the phenomenal growth of the church, some major changes in thinking have occurred among the board leadership. With strong leadership from the senior pastor, the board has moved to a higher level of thinking, and small decisions are left to a church staff member.

Ways for an administrator to help the board, congregation, and staff accept change include:

1. Communicate impending change.

2. Involve others in decision making.

3. Do not change too much at any one time.

4. Support and counsel those who are overwhelmed by change.

5. Build an environment of trust in the administrative skills of the leader.

A good administrator realizes that change is inevitable, but progress is not inevitable. To keep abreast of changes and to effectively utilize changes in administration, pastors can:

• Read about the newest methods of administration. Information about computer technology, electronic mail, on-line biblical aids, and voice mail is available in magazines such as Christian Computing, and PC World.

• Ask business people in the congregation for advice about the church business operations.

• Take a continuing education class in computer technology or in a business related area to become aware of important tools for effectiveness and efficiency.

Constant change should not be feared but harnessed and directed to make church administration and ministry more effective. Understanding and directing change can make the difference between a good administrator and a great administrator.

Bottom Line: Seeing change and managing it are skills of a good manager. Anticipating change and directing it are skills of a great leader.

Michael Comer, an organizational development consultant, serves as the assistant to the senior pastor at First Assembly of God, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Recommended Resources

Covey, Stephen. Principle-Centered Leadership. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

________. First Things First. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Drucker, Peter F. Managing the Nonprofit Organization. NY: Harper Collins, 1990.

Maxwell, John. Priorities...The Pathway to Success. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. Tape series.

Murren, Doug. Leader Shift: How To Lead Your Church into the 21st Century by Managing Change. Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1994.